Eating disorders are all about deception. They thrive on isolation. Prey on insecurities. And really “get ya” with shame and guilt.
One of the biggest contributing factors to my shame, guilt, and self-hatred, (aside from my “Capital L” Lie) were all the lies I was telling my loved ones. I detailed in full all of my deception and lies in this post, but just the headlines were that I was lying about my eating disorder really being due to my Ulcerative Colitis, I was throwing away the weight gaining drinks I was supposed to consume, I wasn’t eating my lunch, and I was exercising to burn calories – not as a form of “pain” relief from the Ulcerative Colitis.
And get this: even though I went to inpatient, I didn’t admit to actually having anorexia for 6 whole days. For nearly a week, I was adamant that the weight loss and everything was a result of my Ulcerative Colitis – NOT an eating disorder. To doctors. I told that to doctors. So needless to say, I was deep into propelling the deception, even at inpatient treatment.
But I wanted to share how my life actually changed once I finally decided to come clean and tell the truth to my parents. How, after exposing the darkness that was inside and becoming vulnerable, I experienced true joy and true freedom.
And instead of paraphrasing it, I thought I’d share straight from my inpatient journal. (I’m telling you, God must have known that I was supposed to write a book about this in the future, because I never kept a journal in my life. Never. Except at inpatient. There, I was a journaling fiend.)
So without further ado:
“So today is the start of a new beginning. Today I told my parents the truth. The whole truth. I came clean. First I came clean to Todd [my therapist] with everything. I cried, I yelled, I felt like hiding, and I felt so exposed and scared but then afterwards, I just wanted to tell my parents. So I called them and they were both in the car on the way to Minnesota. What a blessing from God that they were together and had the rest of the 13-hour drive to reflect together. He made that happen. So I told them everything: That I wasn’t eating the oatmeal bars or the drinks, and that I wasn’t in pain, and that I was taking walks because I was scared to get big thighs. I told them the stretching was because I was really doing sit-ups because I was afraid to get a large stomach, and that I was tanning everyday, and that I wasn’t having peanut butter with my toast. I told them everything. And apologized for living one big lie. And they forgave me. They said that Jesus was lied to and betrayed 3 times by Peter, but that Jesus forgave him and loved him unconditionally. They said that they love me unconditionally, and that nothing I could ever do would make them not love me. They said thank you for telling us, and that they want me to just get better. After I got off the phone, I did a sob-laugh – where you just feel so free and burden-less, but at the same time naked and that people can see the ugliness inside. I need to accept that I’m not ugly – but my choices were ugly. Afterwards, I felt shaky all over, and like everything was in slow motion. I’m a bit nervous about our next phone conversation. But I’ll just pray and ask Jesus to be there with me.
When I first told Todd, it was so weird. There were times that I didn’t even know it was me talking – it was almost an out-of-body experience: I was listening to myself speak, watching the scene from above – from a bird’s eye view. Todd’s eyes – I feel like they’re Jesus’s eyes – that they can look right into my soul. That he knew all along and was just waiting for me to come clean. Todd told me that he did know and was wondering how long it would take for me to tell the truth. After I told Todd, I felt slump shouldered and hollow and exposed — empty yet fulfilled – like a slate was wiped clean. And as I was telling him, I felt very small. When I was telling him, I had my knees pulled into my chest and I was holding my body in a little ball, feeling so incredibly vulnerable and scared. And I heard a voice come out of my mouth that I’ve never heard before. It was deep, loud, dark, and cavernous. It was ugly. And I can’t replicate it even if I try. I think, I mean, what if that was me – or God — releasing Satan, or the evil spirit that had control over me? Who knows – that’s something to ponder. All I know is that when I got done telling Todd, I felt frantic, just wanting to tell my parents NOW. To get it over with so we could move on and heal. After I told mom and dad – it’s hard to describe how I felt. I think a word that I would say is “numb” maybe? Well not really though, because I was feeling a lot. But let’s see: relieved, scared, exposed, but with a strange sense of security. And now even a glimpse of hope. I’m determined, yet I know I’m scared as hell. But anyway – how I feel now – well, I just breathed a sigh, so I guess relieved, and that a huge burden has been lifted, and that things are going to be okay. Scary and hard and frustrating, but they’ll be okay. I am feeling shame and guilt and dirtiness, but I’m glad it’s out in the open, and that makes me feel somewhat clean. Basically, I’m a bundle of swirling emotions, a lot of contradicting feelings, but I can finally sleep because things are gonna be okay. I am exhausted. Thank you Jesus for working though Todd and giving me strength to do this and the grace of forgiveness by you and them.”
My goodness, reading that back brings up a lot of memories and feelings. And I don’t think I have to say much about it. I think it really speaks for itself.
But I will leave you with just one thought. For the girls who are reading this: I cannot describe how truly freeing this was. How imperative it was for my recovery to share the darkness that was inside and to tell the truth about everything. I was letting the perfection go. I was taking off the mask. Revealing my brokenness, thus allowing it to begin to heal. Did actually doing it suck? Yes. Was it probably the scariest thing I’ve ever done? Yes. Even more scary than eating butter for the first time? Hell yes. But it was worth it. Once I let someone in and came clean to my parents, my entire recovery turned around. I finally felt that I was worth recovery. I felt loved. I felt forgiven. I felt determined to actually kick ED out of my life once and for all.
But I had to tell the truth. I battled with so many different feelings leading up to doing that. There were literally SO MANY REASONS, so many “What If’s” that made me feel that I shouldn’t come clean: “What if they hate me? What if they disown me? This darkness inside is too ugly for them to handle. I’ve let all the lies snowball into something so big that they will never forgive me. I’ll expose how broken I am. I’ll expose the horrible, worthless person I truly am. They’ll see through my act. They’ll know the despicable truth. Telling them would be a death sentence. They’ll know I’ve failed. I’ll actually be an utter disappointment.”
But what I realize now, is that all those “reasons” not to tell the truth are actually lies. They were lies being told to me by ED in order to selfishly and ruthlessly guard the eating disorder. Eating disorders thrive in deception – in the darkness. But once you bring it to the light, it doesn’t have power over you anymore. And hear me, sweet girl, when I say this: becoming vulnerable and exposing the truth does not make you a failure or weak, it makes you strong. It takes an enormous amount of courage and strength to tell the truth. It takes tremendous bravery to share your struggles. You will not be a disappointment. Your loved ones will be relieved that you came clean, and you will be free. And you deserve that freedom.
And one final thought (I promise!) for the parents reading this. I could not have asked for a more loving response from my parents when I did tell them the truth. That was so huge: receiving love and gentleness and forgiveness. This is step one in the healing process, and your response will dictate how she should expect the tone of recovery to be from here on out. If you respond with anger or disappointment, that communicates something grave to her, and teaches her that she cannot trust you with her vulnerabilities.
Hearing how she’s manipulated and lied to you is hard, but the things she’s told you are probably not “news” to you. You’ve probably suspected at least some of what she’s told you. But her telling you, shows that she wants to change: that she’s choosing life and choosing recovery. So fight the urge to be hurt or angry, and rather, accept her into open arms, for much like the prodigal son, your daughter, in choosing to tell the truth, is coming home. So put your finest robe on her and throw a party, because she has decided to enter the ring and fight the battle of her life.
And sure, that sounds good and swell on paper. But in reality, getting lied to sucks. It really does. And it’s really hard to think about being loving and forgiving to someone who you hardly recognize right now: who is manipulative, and throws food, locks herself in her bedroom, yells hurtful things, and has a meltdown when you even mention food or eating. Those wounds are very, very real, and will take time to heal. But you have to be the grown up and just absorb those hurts for the moment and look at the big picture. She needs this forgiveness right now more than ever. It sets the ball rolling for recovery and is essential to it.
Remember: your daughter is being controlled by her disordered thoughts and mindset. Her “old self” is in there somewhere, being suffocated, and hanging on for dear life. Your forgiveness gives her permission to forgive herself, which is the first step to loving herself, and setting her “old self” free. Choosing to come clean is a huge step in the right direction. So take heart, for with your love and support, she can, and will beat this. And her telling you the truth shows that she’s choosing to fight.